If you’re going to add a buttload of ninjas to the Joe line, you really should give them someone to fight and what’s more appropriate than a bunch of ninjas fighting a samurai? (Well, maybe a gladiator, but that’s only if your mind was warped by SpikeTV’s Deadliest Warrior…) Budo Samurai Warrior is an interesting figure (with a mouthful of a name), to say the least. While he’s not perfect, I can’t help but smile at the update of a relatively obscure Joe in the modern line. KansasBrother had Budo when we were growing up, and while a part of me would like a little more faithful representation of that design, I find myself loving this version of Budo because Hasbro has probably made the most accurate, small-scale samurai action figure ever. I’ve always kind of appreciated the kind of kookiness that led a samurai to join the Joe team, and I wish we’d see that a little more often in the modern Joe line.
Surprisingly, Budo shares a lot of parts with the various Retaliation ninjas, but you won’t see them because he’s covered with so much new armor. His torso, waist and upper legs come from the 30th Anniversary Renegades Storm Shadow while his lower legs and feet come from the Retaliation Red Ninjas. His arms and head are new, though the arms are shared with the SDCC exclusive Bludgeon which technically came out first. I contend that they were still designed for use with Budo first and Hasbro kind of decided “Well, we’ve got a skeleton samurai Transformer anyway, so let’s make him and get some extra use out of these really specific pieces” after having decided to make Budo first. Though I’ve never removed all the armor, the photos on YoJoe show that the figure hangs together pretty well even without his bulky armor on. The head sculpt is great and reminds me a lot of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, famous for playing a samurai in quite a few of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. The chonmage hairstyle is also historically accurate since samurai warriors often wore their hair in this fashion. Not only did it keep their hair out of their face while in their armor, but it also apparently stabilized the helmet on their head. It is used in a similar fashion here, and it keeps Budo’s helmet on surprisingly tightly. Of course, Budo really isn’t Budo unless he’s wearing all his armor. Hasbro did an amazing job on inserting all the little details into this suit of samurai armor. The armored skirting (kusazuri) has three different and historically accurate textures in it. There’s the metal plating that comes in three panels on the front, there’s a bit of fur texture that would have been decorative on the armor as well as the cloth texture of the belt that would, in real life, hold everything together. The chest plate (dou) is composed of what looks to be four separate plates held together by leather ties. Again, the design is very realistic and it clearly looks like metal and contrasts with the cloth belt he’s wearing. The shoulder armor and gloves (sode and kote, respectively) are both loaded with details reflecting their feudal Japanese origins. The insides of his forearms even have leather straps and padding underneath them so the kote stays on tightly but comfortably. The shin guards from the Red Ninja do a great job standing in for the samurai equivalent (suneate) though I do wish they were new pieces just so they looked a little more accurate to the source material and meshed a bit better with the more detailed armored gloves. Over all the armor, Budo also wears a jinbaori, a surcoat with armor over the shoulder to help bring the rest of the look together. Unfortunately, all this additional armor has some major drawbacks. First of all, Budo’s articulation is pretty restricted. His upper body can move pretty freely, but you really can’t do much of anything with his legs. That doesn’t really bother me all that much since he’s just on display most of the time, but the other problem created is inexcusable…Budo is incredibly unstable. His foot holes don’t really work well with the peg on the battle stand, which was also an annoyingly common problem in the Wave 3 Retaliation figures. The stand really doesn’t help him stand all that much. Believe me, I lost count of the number of times I yelled “Damn it, Budo!” while writing this review because it seemed like every time I needed to touch him to move him into a little better light so I could see something on him a little better, he’d fall over. Budo’s jinbaori also doesn’t really sit right on his shoulders. It rides up pretty high as you can see from the shots of him in profile. It makes him look even bulkier and that’s saying something for an already bulky figure. His dou also doesn’t seem to fit straight on his chest and it’s rather difficult to adjust it. When he’s all armored up it’s not noticeable, but you’ll notice it pretty clearly in the helmetless Budo photo.
While Hasbro didn’t skimp on the detailing of Budo’s armor, they unfortunately really cut back his paint applications, and that hurts him pretty badly as a whole. Budo’s clothing underneath the armor is black while the armor itself is red. It contrasts very nicely, but unfortunately, a lot of details on the armor get lost in a sea of red. I realize they couldn’t make Budo as colorful and fancy as some examples of actual samurai armor can be, but all this red is just not a good look for him. The two cloth belts blend in to the rest of the body and it’s honestly a bit hard to tell at a quick glance what’s armor and what’s cloth. It’s a pretty big strike against the figure in my opinion, especially since prototype photos on the back of the card showed him with a bit more paint on the body. The color scheme is sharp, but the overwhelming red on red on red is a bit monotonous and hurts the look a bit. I also have a little bit of trouble with Budo’s skin tone. In person, it doesn’t look as bad, but the photos of helmetless Budo give him a really jaundiced (or racially stereotyped, considering the old WWII chestnut of Japanese people being the yellow menace) look. I applaud their attempt to make Budo look like a Japanese man (unlike, say casting Keanu Reeves as a samurai) but the execution is just a little off and unfortunately brings him into line with an old racial stereotype. The helmet does get a little more paint detailing than the rest of the armor, but even then, I’m still left wanting more. The horns are a nice, rich black and their bases are a gold, which would make sense in the samurai culture. There are a few additional ornamental gold details, but the beard below the facemask would really benefit from being some color other than red. There’s also a bit of red paint slop onto the black mask which is a bit of a detractor.
Beyond his armor, Budo doesn’t really have much, but what he has fits perfectly for a samurai. First of all, to finish off the samurai look, he’s wearing a traditional kabuto helmet with the black faceplate. The samurai’s helmet is iconic and Hasbro did a great job of replicating it here. Budo also comes with a pair of swords, the longer bladed daito and the shorter bladed shoto. Again, these are accurate representations of what a feudal samurai would carry into battle. Even more impressive is that the belts molded into the armor are designed with a loop in them that allows Budo to accurately carry his swords on his belt as well.
A lot of attention to detail went into this figure, it’s just kind of a shame that the paint job didn’t help bring out all that detail. While I’m not an expert in Japanese culture by any means, as a historian, I wound up taking quite a few classes outside of my comfort zone to get my degree. One of these classes focused solely on feudal Japanese history. While I don’t remember a lot from those days since I haven’t had to use that knowledge in a long time, I can definitely attest to the fact that whoever designed Budo spent a lot of time researching samurai armor to make sure he or she got all the details right. To my slightly-informed eyes, I don’t see anything out of place here. A better paint scheme would really have made this figure sing. As it stands, though, he’s not that great. He’s by no means awful, but between the overwhelming redness of the figure and the fact that he has trouble standing even while on a figure stand, I really have trouble endorsing him that strongly. It’s a great representation of a samurai in full armor, but there are some pretty glaring flaws that hurt Budo’s success as an action figure.